Ex-sergeant fighting to shed murder charge

The State Attorney's Office contends he's not a proper candidate.

By Colleen Jenkins, Times Staff Writer
Published March 8, 2008

TAMPA - A former MacDill Air Force Base sergeant is fighting to get a second-degree murder charge cleared from his record.

Charles P. Harman, 27, was accused in April 2005 of shooting his pregnant wife.

He initially called 911 to report her death as a suicide but was arrested after deputies learned the couple had been arguing and struggled over a handgun. At the time, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office said Harman admitted putting the gun in her mouth and pulling the trigger.

But the alleged statement was not captured on tape, and the detective who referenced the statement in a subsequent taped interview later had no independent recollection of Harman having made the admission during the first interview.

Without the defendant's statement, the medical examiner could not rule out suicide or accidental shooting as the cause of Emily Suzanne Rykwalder's death. And prosecutors could not introduce the statement as evidence unless they could first prove that Harman's wife died as the result of a crime.

A year after Harman's arrest, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office dropped the murder charge.

Still, the case lives on.

In January, a senior judge denied Harman's request to have the murder charge expunged from his record. Harman is appealing that decision.

Generally, individuals are eligible to have a case expunged once in their lifetime as long as they have never been found guilty of another crime. Most eligible people who apply in Hillsborough County get their requests granted, Assistant State Attorney Sean Keefe said.

But Keefe fought Harman's request.

Harman was arrested in October 2003 for a domestic dispute involving his first wife. He was allowed to enter a domestic violence diversion program.

Of the subsequent murder charge, "we felt like it should be on the record," Keefe said.

Harman, an air traffic controller at the time of his 2005 arrest, was discharged from the military, said his Daytona Beach attorney, Michael Ciocchetti.

"We are currently considering legal action against the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office for Mr. Harman's wrongful arrest," Ciocchetti said. "Mr. Harman has always maintained his innocence and feels vindicated by the State Attorney's Office decision to drop the charges against him."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or 813 226-3337.